an in-between move

Cool kids read The Bellman.


Don't read this blog!

I mean, thanks for dropping by my little corner of the blogospheric backwaters, but the blog you should be reading is The Bellman. The stuff I post there is much, much less likely to be imbued with dormitive powers.


[German, from zwischen, intermediate + zug, move

Literally an "in-between move". A move in a tactical sequence is called a zwischenzug* when it does not relate directly to the tactical motif in operation. |source|

image copyright TWIC

From this position, black played a zwischenzug: 19…d5
(Linares 2002, 1-0)


about your blogger

David Rowland studies philosophy at the University of Illinois - Urbana / Champaign, where he's an active member of the Graduate Employees Organization. He used to play a lot of chess, but wasn't all that good. He has a blog. And email.


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$zwichenzug$ sell-out zone





Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under
a Creative Commons License.

Union Label

Direct Action
Gets the Goods!


some folks I know

Mark Dilley
a daily dose of architecture
Safety Neal
January Girl
mimi jingcha
Hop, Skip, Jump
ambivalent imbroglio
Brooke & Lian


some blogs I read

strip mining for whimsy
It's Matt's World
School of Blog
Fall of the State
Dru Blood
Echidne of the Snakes
Colossal Waste of Bandwidth
Running from the Thought Police
Bionic Octopus


some philosoblogs

Fake Barn Country
Freiheit und Wissen


some labor blogs

Confined Space
Working Life
Dispatches From the Trenches
Labor Blog
Eric Lee


some A-list blogs

This Modern World
Matthew Yglesias
Andrew Sullivan
Political Animal
The Volokh Conspiracy


some other links

Rule 33
This Week in Chess
War Nerd
National Priorities Project
Bible Gateway
Internet Archive
A Weekly Dose of Architecture
Orsinal: Morning Sunshine
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Safety Sign Builder
Get Your War On


some philosoblogging

Six views about reasons
Seidman on reflection and rationality
And another thing
Tiffany's argument for strong internalism
Internalism v. Externalism
What do internalists believe anyway?
Rationalism and internalism
The experimental method in philosophy
Advertising to children
On moral skepticism
A linguistic argument
More on Williams
Williams on reasons
General and particular
Normativity and morality
Political intuitions
What it is, what it was, and what it shall be
Objectivity and morality
Thinking revolution
Abortion and coercion
Moore on torture
On the phenomenology of deliberation
Even more Deliberation Day
more Deliberation Day
Deliberation Day run-down
He made a porch for the throne where he might judge, cont.
He made a porch for the throne where he might judge
Every shepherd is an abomination
Droppin' H-bombs
ad hominem

Friday, September 30, 2005


There goes the neighborhood

Workers came and knocked down the house next door while I was at the gym this morning. This is good news for all sorts of reasons, not the least of which is that my house is now the last one left on my street. What most excites me, though, is the very real possibility that we'll have a dump truck handy for tomorrow night's party.

Update: No dump truck. There are a couple of industrial sized waste bins, but they're chock full of house. Also, in response to certain inquiries let me mention that this isn't some hoity toity exclusive type party. All welcome, bring your own whatever, things'll probably get going at around 9.

Thursday, September 29, 2005



[French, from Spanish 'bizarro', brave, probably from Basque 'bizar', beard]

Strikingly unconventional and far-fetched in style and appearance; odd.


When the only winning move is not to play

Professor Snooze has fallen asleep in the shade provided by some shrubbery in a secluded part of the campus. From a nearby walk I observe this. I also notice that the shrub under which he is reclining is a man-eating plant, and I judge from its behavior that it is about to eat the man Snooze. As I run across to him I see a sign which reads KEEP OFF THE GRASS. Without qualm I ignore this prohibition and save Snooze's life. Why did I make this (no doubt scarcely conscious) decision? Because the value of saving Snooze's life (or of saving a life) outweighed the value of obeying the prohibition against walking on the grass.

Now the choices in a game appear to be radically unlike this choice. In a game I cannot disjoin the end, winning, from the rules in terms of which winning posses its meaning. I can, of course, decide to cheat in order to gain the pot, but then I have changed my end from winning a game to gaining money. Thus, in deciding to save Snooze's life my purpose was not 'to save Snooze while at the same time obeying the campus rules for pedestrians.' My purpose was to save Snooze's life, and there were alternative ways in which this might have been accomplished. I could, for example, have remained on the sidewalk and shouted to Snooze in an effort to awaken him. But precious minutes might have been lost, and in any case Snooze, although he tries to hide it, is nearly stone deaf. There are evidently two distinct ends at issue in the Stone episode: saving Snooze and obeying the rule, out of respect either for the law or for the lawn. And I can achieve either of these ends without at the same time achieving the other. But in a game the end and the rules do not admit of such disjunction. It is impossible for me to win the game and at the same time to break one of the rules. I do not have open to me the alternatives of winning the game honestly and winning the game by cheating, since in the latter case I would not be playing the game at all and thus could not, a fortiori, win it.
From Bernard Suits, The Grasshopper: Games, Life, and Utopia, p. 24-25.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005


Philosophers' Imprint...

...is a fairly new, free, online philosophy journal. Also, it's refereed and edited by the philosophy faculty at the University of Michigan. On their description page they write that, "The mission of the Imprint is to promote a future in which funds currently spent on journal subscriptions are redirected to the dissemination of scholarship for free, via the Internet."

Which sounds like a good idea to me.

The article index is here. Astute readers will note that one of the most recent selections is from U of I alum Stephen Finlay.

Sunday, September 25, 2005


The Calamari Wrestler

Here's the description:
A gargantuan squid (Osamu Nishimura) who's captured the hearts of wrestling fans everywhere by winning the championship becomes the object of a sweet young woman's (Kana Ishida) affection. But when other sea creatures start gunning for his throne, he must defend his supremacy without losing his love.

I haven't watched it yet.

And, no, it isn't animated.


In response to a question

This is how you do the fancy fancy 'read more' juju.

Saturday, September 24, 2005


eripsa on games

In comments to this post eripsa proposed that two conditions must be satisfied in order for participation in an activity to count as playing a game. The first of these is that there must be "rules and purposes" which "set out the limits of the [activity]." The second is that those rules and purposes must leave room for what eripsa calls play. In a subsequent comment, eripsa defined 'play' as "the freedom of an agent to use whatever means at his disposal within the constraints of the rules to achieve some ends."[1]

As an aside, it might be worth saying something, briefly, about the project of coming up with a definition here. I'm certainly not a fan of the methodology of conceptual analysis and neither, I think, is eripsa. So neither of us thinks that there is, in some strong objective sense, a right answer to the question of what a game must be. There is, however, a widespread social practice of playing games, a practice that is connected in certain deep ways to issues that both eripsa and I are interested in. In eripsa's case, this interest seems to stem from a somewhat idiosyncratic understanding of the Turing Test mixed with a preoccupation with the question of the possibility of machine consciousness. For myself, the interest lies in the fact that the practice of playing games is normatively rich in ways that seem to shed light on the nature of moral reasoning. The hope is that getting straight about the content of the practice will help clarify other things we wish to say.

The introduction of the play requirement is welcome, from my point of view, in part because it gives voice to the intuition that rote rule followers aren't really participants in games. The paradigmatic example here is the computer which follows a rigid procedure in such a way that the computer's behavior could conceivably mirror that of a game player. Whatever we say about more advanced machines, I would like to be able to say that the rigid machine is not a game player.

A more compelling argument for the play requirement, however, would go beyond my intuitions in what are, admittedly, disputed cases. Such an argument might begin with the thought that the play requirement allows us to narrow a definition which would otherwise be overly broad. It seems, for example, that assembling a piece of furniture from IKEA is a rule governed activity, but we would not wish to say that it is a game. Similarly, a rigid computer follows rules when executing any program, and whatever we say about the case where that computer behaves in a game player like fashion, we won't want to say that the rigid computer is always playing a game.

It remains somewhat unclear, to me at least, what the status of the conditions eripsa articulates is meant to be. If he means them to be sufficient as well as necessary, then activities like driving and filing taxes are problematic, since each seems to satisfy the play condition. Eripsa downplays this consequence, writing that "the creative accountant, the skilled driver, can take these constrainted activities and play within their bounds." This seems to suggest that such activities are only sometimes games. But, first, driving seems to be an activity that always requires play in the relevant sense. And, second, the proposed condition made reference to "leaving room for play" and if one can sometimes play, then room must have been left.

One way to respond here is to go with the Grasshopper in saying that all human activities are games. It seems, though, that even if the Grasshopper's thesis is true, this should come as some sort of surprise and require considerable argument, rather than falling out of our definition of games. Another possible response is to admit that the conditions offered are necessary but not sufficient. This response is not incorrect, but clearly leaves work to be done. eripsa will either need to provide another condition which completes the definitional project or explain why understanding the play requirement as a merely sufficient condition is adequate for his purposes.

1 Since play requires that the agent act with "an eye towards the end", I think it's fair to say that the definition endorsed by eripsa is compatible with both of the requirements for justification-within-a-game which I articulated a few days ago.



[Greek. Original meaning unclear. but was a label adopted by some of the Pyrrhonists]

1. A seeker.
2. In math, the method used for finding the value of unknown quantities by direct search.

Seeking, inquiring, investigating; proceeding by inquiry or investigation.

Thursday, September 22, 2005


Parsing Skepticus

In partial answer to his own question, Scepticus drew a distinction between 'game playing' and 'playing in general.' According to this distinction, an activity counts as play just so long as it is a sort of leisure rather than a sort of work. The difference between merely playing and playing a game, apparently, has to do with whether or not the leisure activity is rule governed in the appropriate way.

Let me briefly mention an obvious objection to this way of carving things up. The Grasshopper's dream collapsed every human activity, and especially activities generally considered to be work, into instances of playing games. If we're going to accept the possibility of this hypothesis, then it seems very odd to understand playing games as being the subset of a type of activity that is opposed to work.

The answer to this dilemma, of course, is that the Grasshopper means to be a radical skeptic about the possibility of there being any activities that fit into the category of work. That category, it seems, would be filled out by activities which are valued instrumentally, whereas play consists of activities that are valued for their own sake. So one part of the Grasshopper's thesis is that every activity that is valued is valued for its own sake. Another part of the thesis is that those cases in which we commonly make the mistake of thinking that an activity is instrumentally valuable are cases of game playing, which is to say that they are cases of rule governed activities which are valued for their own sake.

Lurking slightly below the surface of this is the thought that the perception of instrumental value is a byproduct of game playing. To see something as instrumentally valuable, the thought goes, is to see it as contributing to the accomplishment of some goal. But for an activity to have a goal requires that the activity be, in at least some minimal sense, rule-governed. And then it is a game.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005



[from Greek 'anomos', lawless : 'a-', without + 'nomos', law]

Socially unstable, alienated, and disorganized.


Dumb joke blogging, almost topical edition

Q: What's George Bush's position on Roe v. Wade?

A: He doesn't care how people get out of New Orleans.

Sunday, September 18, 2005


Ivan and Abdul

Sport seemed an obvious pastime for a couple of shelved warriors to take up, since sport seemed to them to be a kind of substitute, or polite, kind of warfare. It soon became evident to them, however, that sports were like warfare only in the most superficial respects. Specifically, they found that sports were hedged round with the most outrageously arbitrary restrictions. In golf, for example, you were expected to use a golf club to get your ball out of a sand trap even when your opponent could not see what you were doing. And in tennis, you were expected to call a ball foul or fair honestly even when your opponent was not in a position to check your call. Chess was no better, since surreptitiously to alter the location of pieces on the board -- obviously an effective tactic -- was ruled out.

But since they could find nothing better to do to occupy their time, they continued to play these games, although -- as the diplomatic colony to its delight soon became aware -- with a difference. Whenever the rules could be broken without detection or retribution, they were broken. Although this approach was ultimately doomed to failure, it worked very well for a time, and a number of breathtaking refinements were added to most of the conventional games. Thus to golf was added, among other things, the use of self-propelling radar-controlled golf balls, and to chess the use of hallucinogenic drugs as an offensive weapon. On the tennis courts Abdul achieved a much admired coup by hiring two men to raise and lower the net at appropriate times, until this was countered by Ivan's introduction of the net-piercing tennis ball.

From Bernard Suits, The Grasshopper: Games, Life, and Utopia, p. 60-61. Cf. eripsa.


Skepticus clarifies the question

Skepticus: Therefore, when the Grasshopper was extolling the life of play he meant by that life, presumably, not doing any specific thing, but doing any number of quite different things, depending, no doubt, on the talents and preferences of those doing the playing. That is, some people like to collect stamps, and some do not. Some have a talent for chess or for playing wind instruments, and some do not. So the Grasshopper surely was not arguing that the life he was seeking to justify -- the life of the Grasshopper -- was identical with just one of these leisure activities. He was not contending, for example, that the life of the Grasshopper is identical with playing the trombone.

Prudence: Of course not, Skepticus, how absurd!

S: Yes, that would be absurd. And that is precisely why I find the Grasshopper's third answer so strange. For in that answer he seemed to be taking the view not that the life of the Grasshopper ought to consist simply in leisure activities, but that it ought to consist in playing games. For he began his answer, you will recall, by telling us that he sometimes fancied that everyone alive was really a Grasshopper in disguise.

P: Yes, I remember.

S: And then, presumably as an explanation of what he meant by that curious observation, he began to tell us about his dream, in which everyone alive was playing games but did not know that they were playing games. The conclusion seems inescapable that the Grasshopper was thinking of a grasshopper in disguise as being identical with someone playing a game without knowing that he was playing a game, and that he therefore believed game playing, and not merely playing in general, to be the essential life of the grasshopper.

P: Yes, I see, Skepticus. How very odd.

S: Indeed. For the dream is revealed as a riddle which is itself contained within another riddle. First there is the rather complicated riddle of the dream itself. Why should creatures who do not know themselves to be grasshoppers, and who have been playing games they do not know to be games, suffer annihilation upon discovering that that is what they have been doing; and why, if they are playing games, don't they know it? But all of this is part of another riddle. That is, why should the quintessential grasshopper be a player of games rather than a doer of any number of other things which are valuable in themselves and which therefore count as 'play' every bit as much as game playing does?

From Bernard Suits, The Grasshopper: Games, Life, and Utopia, p. 16.

Thursday, September 15, 2005


Statement by the President

I believe the American people, to the fullest extent consistent with national security, are entitled to be informed of all developments in the field of atomic energy. That is my reason for making public the following information.

We have evidence that within recent weeks an atomic explosion occurred in the U.S.S.R.

Ever since atomic energy was first released by man, the eventual development of this new force by other nations was to be expected. This probability has always been taken into account by us.

Nearly 4 years ago I pointed out that "scientific opinion appears to be practically unanimous that the esential theoretical knowledge upon which the discovery is based is already widely known. There is also substantial agreement that foreign research can come abreast of our present theoretical knowledge in time." And, in the Three-Nation Declaration of the president of the United States and the prime ministers of the United Kingdom and of Canada, dated November 15, 1945, it was emphasized that no single nation could in fact have a monopoly of atomic weapons.

This recent development emphasizes once again, if indeed such emphasis were needed, the necessity for that truly effective enforceable international control of atomic energy which this Government and the large majority of members of the United Nations support.

President Harry S. Truman
September 23, 1949

Text taken from Cantelon, Hewlett, and Williams (eds.) The American Atom: A Documentary History of Nuclear Policies from the Discovery of Fision to the Present, p. 112.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005


Nice to have backup

My laptop experienced something approaching a total existence failure at about 11:15 pm. It's taken me until now to work through enough of the shock to get my old iMac moved out of the spare room and running. I may not have my data, and I may not be mobile, but at least I have internet.


Update, 2:29 a.m.: So, anyhow, I'm processing my laptop grief partly by staying up late, drinking, and watching TV. I've gone so far as to reset my alarm to 7:08, even though this was the week when I was supposed to start getting up at 5. The upshot of all this is that I'm pleased to report that The Mighty Quinn is a pretty good movie. That's what Ebert and Siskel said back in the day, but somehow I never bought a ticket.

Addendum: Maybe I should mention that when my laptop died I was in the midst of composing a post about the joys of front porch blogging, an activity that had only become available to me in the aftermath of the post office declaring that they would refuse to deliver mail to my address unless my landlord replaced the old porch with a structure capable of sustaining human occupancy. There's some yin and yang in there.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005


4 days...

...'til Split Lip.


A quick Korsgaard post

The centerpiece of Korsgaard's second Locke Lecture is something she calls 'the argument against particularistic willing.' The argument is most explicitly given in 2.5.2, but material bearing on it is found throughout the lecture. Which is, by the way, a good thing because many of the arguments of 2.5.2, taken on their own, have the appearance of circularity.

I hasten to add that I don't really think that Korsgaard is arguing in a circle, or at least not in the superficial way that it sometimes appears. Rather, I think that the text is a lecture and that certain of the rhetorical techniques appropriate to a lecture format encourage formulations that appear circular when not interpreted in the context of the whole. I also think that the argument of 2.5.2 is meant to be a reformulation of an argument found in the replies of Sources (I think Korsgaard says this explicitly somewhere), with the result that some of the turns taken in the Locke Lectures only make sense in the context of criticism leveled at Sources.

Anyway, for what it's worth, my best shot at the general argument against particularistic wiling is something this:
  1. To will at all is to regard oneself as a causality.
  2. But our concept of causation is the concept of a law which operates without exception.
  3. Particularistic willing would be to regard oneself as a causality, but as one which does not operate with regularity.
  4. Hence, the very idea of particularistic willing is inconsistent.

I don't find this to be a convincing argument at all. Let me say, very briefly, why not.

To begin with, I'm not inclined to agree that the concept of causation is the concept of a law which operates without exception. In Sources it was pretty clear that this notion of causation was linked to the operation of natural law. While keeping in mind that there are some differences with the presentation of the Locke Lecture and the status of natural law is a contentious question in the philosophy of science (and one I'm not all that familiar with), it strikes me that the notion of causation appealed to here is overly simplistic.

It is perhaps too early in human history to say whether we will ultimately discover the fact of the matter as to whether our universe is deterministic or indeterministic (though the case for indeterminism looks pretty good). What is clear, though, is that we wouldn't consider events brought about through indeterministic processes to be uncaused. But if that is so, then it makes no sense to say that our concept of causation must be the concept of a law which operates without exception.

There is, of course, an out (and perhaps the reason that natural law is not so explicitly appealed to in the Locke Lectures is to preserve this out). Korsgaard can say that she is not talking about the notion of causality as it is used in science, but rather about a notion of causality that is psychologically necessary for us. At first blush, though, this is an odd thing to say. After all, it certainly seems to be the case that people take themselves to be capable of acting inconsistently. And if that's so, then how can it be psychologically necessary that insofar as they regard themselves as a cause they regard themselves as instantiating a law which operates without exception?

Yes, yes, I know. So that by action they will constitute themselves as agents. But I don't think Korsgaard can appeal to that here without begging the question, since the argument against particularistic willing is apparently meant to be a step toward the conclusion that we constitute ourselves as agents by acting on universal maxims.


Progress, scholarship

First, the wrong argument. The idea that scholarship ought to solve problems and make progress is built on the assumption that there is some real standard against which progress can be measured. But there is no discourse independent notion of progress. Hence, the very idea that 'making progress' is an important goal of scholarly endeavor is a non-starter.

This argument (or something like it) might be deployed by a defender of the cottage industry that has grown up in cultural studies around the show Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It's a response to the worry that Buffy-centered scholarship is somehow illegitimate since there doesn't seem to be any sense in which the Buffy scholarship of today can be said to improve on (or get worse than) previous Buffy scholarship.

The argument fails because it tries to show too much. Granting, as we should, that there's no discourse independent notion of progress, it doesn't follow that the notion of progress is empty. In fact, a given discourse may (and possibly must) have standards which regulate how one is to negotiate the problems that can be articulated in that discourse.

This is all that is needed for a notion of progress, but it does leave the question of whether a discourse dependent notion of progress can provide us with important goals. The answer, it seems to me, is that this will depend on whether the problems articulated in the discourse are worth solving. Since our choice of discourses will often be guided by our perception that the discourse sheds light on salient problems, it seems clear that making discourse dependent progress can sometimes provide us with important goals.

But, as I said, it was the wrong argument. The defender of Buffy-centered scholarship seems to be left with two alternatives. She can either continue to dispute the notion that the legitimacy of a piece of scholarship depends upon the work's contribution to the solution of a definable and important problem, or she can give an account of the problem that such work addresses.

There is a straighforward way in which Buffy scholarship can be said to be directed at a problem. That is, we can say that Buffy is a text, and that Buffy scholarship succeeds insofar as at opens that text to interpretation. The difficulty with this answer is that the notion of progress appealled to fails to ground interest in the project. What's missing is an appreciation of what opening the text accomplishes.

That's not to say that opening the text fails to accomplish anything. Rather, the point is that what it accomplishes need not have anything at all to do with what other openings of the text accomplished. And this means that insofar as there is a common problem which Buffy scholarship shares that problem is just the uninteresting one of making the text more open.

And yet, particular pieces of Buffy scholarship are not uninteresting, nor do they fail to accomplish anything. It's just that their interest does not derive from the common problem they share with other tokens of Buffy scholarship and that their accomplishment cannot be understood in terms of progress toward the solution of any such problem.

This brings me to the right argument. The idea that scholarship ought to solve problems and make progress is built on the assumption that the standards for success in any discourse must be cashed out in terms of definable problems which are amenable to solution. But while there are some domains in which we do well to judge by such standards, there are other domains in which such standards are unhelpful. Nor does the unhelpfulness of such standards mean that the domain fails to be a proper subject of scholarly interest. Hence, the very idea that 'making progress' must be the primary goal of all scholarly endeavor is a non-starter.


A tentative answer

When playing a game, one's actions are justified in virtue of the combination of two factors. The first of these comprises the rules of the game, whatever those happen to be. The second is difficult to cash out precisely, but speaking generally we can say that it has to do with an intent to be bound by those rules.

There is, arguably, a third factor, namely a desire to succeed at the game. My own inclination is to treat this as a consequence of the conjunction of the first two factors, but whatever. In any case, what counts as success is determined by the rules and so binding oneself to those rules makes available justificatory resources for treating success as a good.

A consequence of this is that there appears to be a point of view from which the conditions for success are arbitrary. Someone who does not know the rules of the game (or, perhaps it will be enough that they are not committed to those rules) will see no point in game-players doing one thing rather than another.

This marks a distinction with playing the trombone. For while there are certain choices made within that activity which are arbitrary in the relevant sense, the robust reality of the trombone dictates that certain other choices must be made in particular ways if one is to play the trombone at all. For example, one must place the mouth piece to one's lips, rather than positioning the bell on one's head like a hat.

Monday, September 12, 2005


The occidental wisdom of Henry Rollins

Yukio Mishima said that he could not entertain the idea of romance if he was not strong. Romance is such a strong and overwhelming passion, a weakened body cannot sustain it for long. I have some of my most romantic thoughts when I am with the Iron. Once I was in love with a woman. I thought about her the most when the pain from a workout was racing through my body.

Found here.

Friday, September 09, 2005


The Grasshopper's dream

'I admit that this is a wild fancy,' the Grasshopper was saying, 'and I hesitate to tell you my thoughts. Still, I am used to being thought foolish, so I shall proceed, inviting you to make of my words what you will. Then let me tell you that I have always had a recurring dream, in which it is revealed to me -- though how it is revealed I cannot say -- that everyone alive is in fact engaged in playing elaborate games, while at the same time believing themselves to be going about their ordinary affairs. Carpenters, believing themselves to be merely pursuing their trade, are really playing a game, and similarly with politicians, philosophers, lovers, murderers, thieves, and saints. Whatever occupation or activity you can think of, it is in reality a game. This revelation is, of course, astonishing. The sequel is terrifying. For in the dream I then go about persuading everyone I find of the great truth which has been revealed to me. How I am able to persuade them I do not know, though persuade them I do. But precisely at the point when each is persuaded -- and this is the ghastly part -- each ceases to exist. It is not just that my auditor vanishes on the spot, though indeed he does. It is that I also know with absolute certainty that he no longer exists anywhere. It is as though he had never been. Appalled as I am by the results of my teaching, I cannot stop, but quickly move on to the next creature with my news, until I have preached the truth throughout the universe and have converted everyone to oblivion. Finally I stand alone beneath the summer stars in absolute despair. Then I awaken to the joyful knowledge that the world is still teeming with sentient beings after all, and that it was only a dream. I see the carpenter and philosopher going about their work as before...But is it, I ask myself, just as before? Is the carpenter on his roof-top simply hammering nails, or is he making some move in an ancient game whose rules he has forgotten? But now the chill creeps up my legs. I grow drowsy. Dear friends, farewell.'

Source: Bernard Suits, The Grasshopper: Games, Life and Utopia, p. 10.


An important question

Skepticus: Yes, a dream about playing games. That is what is so strange.

Prudence: What is so strange about that? Surely the strangeness lies in the fact that they were playing unconscious games, and that they vanished as soon as they realized what they were doing.

S: Oh, that is strange, I grant you. But it is just the kind of strangeness you expect a dream to have. There is, however, another, and, so to say, prior strangeness which must be fathomed before we can begin to fathom the strangeness of the dream itself.

P: What on earth are you talking about, Skepticus?

S: I am saying that there is a question we have to answer before we can solve the puzzle of the dream.

P: What question?

S: This question: Why were the creatures in the Grasshopper's dream playing games instead of the trombone?

Source: Bernard Suits, The Grasshopper: Games, Life and Utopia, p. 15.

Thursday, September 08, 2005


The Ass's Shadow

I think that would be a good name for a superhero, don't you? Or maybe a villian. Not a sidekick. Too obvious.

In point of fact, though, it's the title attributed to this fable from Aesop:
On a hot summer day a youth hired an ass to carry him from Athens to Megara. At mid-day the heat of the sun was so scorching that, feeling faint, he dismounted to rest himself in the shadow of the ass. Thereupon the driver disputed the place with him, declaring that he had an equal right to it with any other.

"What!" exclaimed the youth. "Did I not hire the ass for the whole journey?"

"Yes, indeed," said the driver, "you hired the ass, but you did not hire the ass's shadow."

And while they were wrangling the ass took to his heels and ran away.

The moral, according to Companion Library's book of Aesop's Fables is, "Too many disagreements have naught but a shadow for a basis." I don't see it.

Some other fable titles that would work as nicknames:
  • The Bald Knight
  • The Mischevious Dog
  • The Quack Frog
  • The Vain Crow

Wednesday, September 07, 2005


What the Hell happened to my template?

Suddenly it looks as if the far right hand column is all messed up. This is the second time in four months that the template has gotten all screwed up without me changing a single thing. Is the Blogger crew trying to get me to migrate to another blogging app?


The 'G' stands for Walter


Tuesday, September 06, 2005


Calling all news media

That headline should read, "Bob Denver, TV's Maynard G. Krebs, dies at 70"


"A Lexicon of College Slang"*

  • billies local youths who do not attend the university, but may be seen at bars, sporting events, etc.
  • dweeb any anonymous person
  • an egg an undesirable person, e.g., an undesirable potential fraternity brother
  • an atomic egg an extremely undesirable person
  • a flame one who is annoying, offensive; also a verb, as in "they're really flaming now"
  • geek a person
  • ghoul a person who studies to excess and haunts the library
  • Tensor-ghoul one who studies secretly after everyone else is asleep (from "Tensor lamp")
  • gork a person
  • lunchmeat any disagreeable, undesirable person
  • nerd undesirable person; also a verb, to study while others are relaxing, as in "they're nerding out"
  • throat a student who studies to excess, from cutthroat; also a verb, as in "to throat for an exam"
  • townies students who commute from home
  • turkey undesirable person
  • woodwork formerly enthusiastic person who becomes apathetic and figuratively crawls into the woodwork
  • wot or W.O.T. from "a waste of time" as applied to a date who has been disappointing
  • yucks lower-class whites who live near but do not attend the university

* Found in the second edition of Paul Churchill's Logic An Introduction, p. 73. He adapted it from John J. Perrotta, "A Hopkins Argot," Johns Hopkins Magazine, January, 1978.

Monday, September 05, 2005


The perils of philosoblogging

One is that it takes a long time. Another is that you often find, when you set out to do something, that a considerable amount of ground clearing is necessary first. So, for example, right now I'm working on a post that was intended to be a reconsideration of certain elements of my last Korsgaard post. At last count I had over a thousand words, but I hadn't gotten to anything in that post yet.



Ted Williams in the New York Times

The lead:
When you sculpture heads, as Daniel Edwards does, you never expect an artistic gift like the news that Ted Williams's head had been removed and frozen, along with his separated trunk, at a cryonics laboratory in Arizona. |link|

Thursday, September 01, 2005


Instinct, intelligence, and reason in Korsgaard's Locke Lectures

This post is an attempt to lay out Korsgaard's three part distinction between animals which are merely conscious, animals which are, in addition, intelligent, and human beings who are, on Korsgaard's view, not only intelligent but also capable of employing reason.

The following brief excerpt brings out several important features of Korsgaard's view of merely conscious animals:
Consciousness first evolved in unintelligent animals, and would have been useless if all it did was to flood their tiny minds with neutral information that needs to be processed by intelligence or reason before it is of any use. So the world comes to an animal already practically interpreted as a world of tools and obstacles, friends and enemies, of the to-be-avoided and the to-be-sought. The natural way of perceiving the world, in other words, is teleologically. (4.2.1)

The unintelligent but conscious animal, on the view Korsgaard is pushing here, has an interior mental life of a sort. That mental life is comprised of a series of motivationally loaded representations of the outer world. These representations are the closest thing such an animal has to an imperative, and its behavior can be understood as rote adherance to the recommendations of its perceptions. For such an animal instinct operates both within the mechanism by which the sensory impingements of the world are transformed into representations and in the mechanism by which such representations spur behavior. In the first instance, instinct is the faculty which imbues those representations with motivational force, and it does this by sorting groups of sensory impingements into semantic categories -- things-to-be-eaten, things-to-be-ignored, things-to-be-avoided, and so on -- that are hard wired into the animal. In the second instance, instinct is the application of a rule specifying what is to be done given acquaintance with a representation from a particular category.
An intelligent animal is characterized by its ability to learn from its experiences. It is able to extend its repertoire of practically significant representations (or even just cues, for a machine may be intelligent) beyond those with which instinct (or the inventor) originally supplied it. So intelligence is a capacity to forge new connections, to increase your stock of automatically appropriate responses. Intelligence so understood is not something contrary to instinct, but rather something that increases its range and ramifies the view of the world that it presents. (4.2.2)

The distinction between an intelligent animal and one that is merely conscious, then, has to do with the capacity to enlarge the extension of the categories provided by instinct. An intelligent animal may, for example, come to learn that jello is food, despite initial appearances to the contrary. When it does this, future representations of jello will be motivationally loaded in the way that instinct (speaking loosely) determines that representations of food ought to be. Notice that the operation of instinctual faculties remains essentially unchanged, and that intelligence is able to overrule instinct only in the first of its two offices.

Since I have laid things out in this way the punchline is probably obvious - the rational animal will be able to overrule instinct in its second office. That is, the rational animal will be able to determine for itself what rule shall determine its response to representations from each of the various semantic categories. This rule making function, moreover, will be tantamount to a reconception of many of the categories since it imposes a teleology over and above that given by nature.

There is, though, a wrinkle. For Korsgaard reason is the result of a very specific feature of the human mind.
...our capacity to turn out attention on to our own mental states and activities is also a capacity to distance ourselves from them, and to call them into question. I perceive some situation as dangerous, and find myself with an instinctive impulse, an incentive, to run. But when I bring that impulse itself into view, when I reflect on it, then I can call it into question. Shall I run? Does this situation really give me a reason to run? And now I have to decide.

The first result of the development of self-consciousness is liberation from the control of instinct. Instincts still operate within us, in the sense that they are the sources of many of our incentives – in fact, arguably, though by various routes, of all of them. But instincts no longer determine how we respond to those incentives, what we do in the face of them. They propose responses, but we may or may not act in the way they propose. Self- consciousness opens up a space between the incentive and the response, a space of what I call reflective distance. It is within the space of reflective distance that the question whether our incentives give us reasons arises. In order to answer that question, we need principles, which determine what we are to count as reasons. Our rational principles replace our instincts – they will tell us what is an appropriate response to what, what makes what worth doing, what the situation calls for. And so it is in the space of reflective distance, in the internal world created by self-consciousness, that reason is born.


Might as well go whole hog

Is She Don't Use Jelly more or less representative of The Flaming Lips than Been Caught Stealing is of Jane's Addiction?


Remembering The Warehouse

Apparently, it's music day today here at the old Bar Z ranch.

In replying to Matt's comment below, it occurred to me the Lips shows I remember so fondly were a long damn time ago. I saw them at a short lived venue in Manhattan, Kansas called, you guessed it, The Warehouse. It was open from late summer of 1992 thru, I think, the spring of 1993. As I recall, The Flaming Lips played the first and last shows there, as well as one show in between. I'm pretty sure that I went to all three.

I also remember seeing Morphine, The Jesus Lizard, and Skankin' Pickle there, and probably couldn't have avoided seeing a Truckstop Love show.

Here's a question for my olde tyme Kansas readers: What do you remember about The Warehouse?


Memo to the record industry

The practice of capitalizing every letter in the title of a song or album doesn't fool anyone.[1] Everybody knows that you haven't bothered to learn the rules for capitalization.

1 A much sneakier work around would be to capitalize only the first letter of the first word in the title.


Not much posting this week

Partly it's because I'm obsessed with the hurricane, but don't have anything at all to say about it. And partly it's because the semester just started and I'm busier than I had been. And partly it's because I've been working on some actual real philosoblogging and, darn it, that takes time.

Anyway, here are two questions for the music fans.

First, I've found myself listening to The Flaming Lips a whole bunch this week and am thinking of adding a new Flaming Lips record to my collection. Should I move forward in their ouvre, or backwards? I have all of the records from In a Priest Driven Ambulance thru Clouds Taste Metallic and probably couldn't pick a favorite[1]. Yoshimi and Gawd are the leaders in the clubhouse, but I'm open to suggestions.

Second, what's the aesthetic value (or value simpiciter) of innovation? A few days ago, I claimed that Gray Matter's cover of 'I am the Walrus' was more successful than the original. What I meant was that Gray Matter seemed to me to have done a better job of fulfilling the objectives of the song's project, objectives which I take to include being catchy, rocking, and instantiating psychedelic properties. The Beatles, on the other hand, were the folks who first envisioned the project. What's more, they pioneered methods for approximating that vision. Do those factors outweigh Gray Matter's superior execution?

1 That was a bald faced lie. In a Priest Driven Ambulance is clearly the best of the lot.